Meet Michael Ford, the hip hop architect

The American Midwest is shaking up the world of architecture. Our profile series, part of our Next Generation 2022 project, explores exciting young studios presenting bold ideas for a better future for the built environment. Meet Michael Ford

A group of kids with colourful t-shirts with Chicago in the background
A group of students from the Hip Hop Architecture Camp programme
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Michael Ford is a busy man. The Detroit-born, Maddison-based architect not only heads the small but dynamic studio, Brandnu Design, focusing on architecture, community engagement, textiles, and fashion; he also spearheads the Hip Hop Architecture Camp, ‘an international initiative which uses hip-hop culture as a catalyst to introduce underrepresented youth to architecture, design, and urban planning in a culturally relevant way’.

The camp is an initiative of Muundo Inc, a Wisconsin-based non-profit organisation that Ford started in 2016 (the same year Brandu Design was founded), and it’s an exciting, refreshing and an important project. Its programme is 100 per cent free for all who take part and encompasses a paid internship scheme that places top camp participants in architecture and design firms across the globe. 

Michael Ford: rethinking architecture and design

portrait of architect Michael Ford

Architect Michael Ford, photographed by Hugo Yu at The Robey in Chicago

(Image credit: photographed by Hugo Yu)

‘My work is defined by my love of Black music. The ingenuity exhibited throughout history by Black musicians is what drives me to rethink approaches to architecture and design,’ Ford explains. ‘I position hip hop culture as the post-occupancy evaluation of modernism. Meaning that hip hop offers an unsolicited, unfiltered, and raw critique of the places and spaces where the culture was born and where it lives today.’

He continues: ‘My work extracts the rhythms, patterns, textures, and structures which are unique to the elements of hip hop culture and converts them to architectural rhythms, patterns, textures and structures.’

poster mock up for wrap textile collection

Poster using Michael Ford's textile series [W]raps!, which converts raps into design

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His work, Ford reiterates, is centred on social justice and the built environment, striving to challenge the standard approaches to architecture and design – and drawing parallels between those and music.

‘Architecture lacks diversity. Less than three per cent of licensed architects in the United States are African American! How will architecture look and what impact can we have if we have more practitioners of colour? That’s a question I constantly ask myself,’ he says. 

hip hop architecture camp merchandise

Hip Hop Architecture Camp products

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Ford’s voice is powerful and his energy seemingly endless. In addition to his work for Hip Hop Architecture Camp, he is also president of the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), while recent and current projects span plans for the Universal Hip Hop Museum in The Bronx, preparations for a rap-inspired textile and fashion line, and a range of public appearances including a short film on the Oprah Winfrey Network’s Super Soul Sunday. Still, his most significant recent achievement, he confesses, is ‘becoming a dad’.

michael ford's wrap textiles mock up in interiors

Mock-up of the use of [W]raps! collection textiles in interiors

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A version of this article appears in the January 2022 issue of Wallpaper* (W*273). Subscribe today!

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).